Vietnam arrested Pham Doan Trang on October 7, 2020, and charged her under Article 88 of its 1999 Penal Code for allegedly “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents, and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Her trial was originally scheduled to take place on November 4, 2021, but the court postponed her trial due to the prosecutors having come into contact with COVID-19.
However, on October 25, 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), a team of five independent experts tasked with investigating “cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily or inconsistently with the international standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” released their opinions regarding the arrest, detention, and treatment by the Vietnamese state of internationally recognized independent journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang.
In this document, WGAD scrutinizes the formal statements given by the side of Doan Trang and that of the Vietnamese government in order to verify the authenticity of the claims regarding her situation in custody and to provide recommendations for the Vietnamese government.
WGAD also stated that even though the Vietnamese government vehemently rejects the accusations alleged by the side of Doan Trang and that “[the Vietnamese government] cannot provide detailed information regarding this case to the press and other irrelevant parties,” WGAD will still continue with its investigation as part of its mandate “to serve the needs of victims of arbitrary arrest and detention worldwide.”
WGAD concluded that “the deprivation of liberty of Pham Doan Trang, being in contravention of articles 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2, 9, 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 22, 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary and falls within categories I, II, III, and V.”
Regarding Doan Trang’s arrest by state forces, WGAD believes that the Vietnamese authorities failed to present a warrant for her arrest and that Doan Trang was not informed of the charges lodged against her. She was also never brought before an independent judicial authority in order to challenge her detention.
Likewise, WGAD upholds that Doan Trang was put under Incommunicado Detention which “is an environment conducive to torture and cruel inhumane treatment, as it may be used to coerce the individual to confess to the commission of the alleged crimes and admit guilt.” Furthermore, WGAD states that the initial charge under Article 117 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code is “so vague that it is impossible to invoke a legal basis for her detention.” Hence, WGAD concludes that the Vietnamese government failed to establish a legal basis for Doan Trang’s arrest and detention.
WGAD also believed that she was detained for “peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association.”. As such, it has referred this case to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
WGAD also stated that because Doan Trang was not allowed to speak to her defense lawyers until recently, and was denied legal counsel, her right to a fair and just trial has been violated.
Likewise, WGAD found that Doan Trang was “deprived of her liberty on discriminatory grounds” due to her being a vocal human rights defender and because of her political stance and opinions.
In light of all the information presented, WGAD requests that the Vietnamese government take all the necessary steps needed in order to remedy Doan Trang’s situation in order to “bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms.”
WGAD believes that the best remedy would be to urgently and immediately release Doan Trang and compensate her in accordance with international law. WGAD also urges the Vietnamese government to ensure a “full and independent investigation” of Doan Trang’s arbitrary detention and to “take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of her rights.”
The UN WGAD’s full statement can be found here